The final part in my Patreon series on Raiders of the Lost Ark –
Suspension of disbelief is a wonderful thing in movies. A magical tool that does not translate 1:1 in writing.
Writing is more like table magic.
The reader is breathing on your hands as you type, that’s how close they are to the tricks you’re trying to do.
Indiana Jones swims to the enemy submarine. He spins in a circle as if looking for something while the crew of the nearby freighter cheers his survival and pluck. The Nazis are shown responding to what I always assumed was the dive alarm. Then, we are shown a map with a red line indicating where the submarine goes – an island.
[insert genius here]
We next see Indiana Jones, sopping wet, hiding on the docking platform inside the Nazi secret base.
We’re never told how Indy survives a voyage on what seems to be a submarine traveling below the ocean’s surface.
My research has found there WAS a shot of this that got left on the cutting room floor. Supposedly, he lashed himself to a periscope with his whip and was lucky enough to have the sub not fully submerge.
Why they left in what appeared to be the crew submerging the vessel is beyond me. If they’d taken that bit out, I probably wouldn’t have wondered at all. Probably.
This weekend I did a critique for a friend’s short story. Twice, he used the word ‘something’. This word is not your friend, fellow magicians.
“He grinned at her, something odd in his eyes.”
I suggested changing this to “When he smiled at her, the light never reached his eyes,” but there are many ways to eliminate the [insert genius here] and convey clarity.
“He chuckled, something about the sound set her heart beating faster.”
How would you eliminate the word ‘something’ in this sentence?
Personally, I prefer breaking it into two sentences. “He chuckled. Dinah’s heart beat faster at the sound.” The two shorter sentences speed the pacing and increase the tension.
Now, those aren’t plot holes. But, they are a way to look at where you can achieve better communication in your story – where your table magic needs more focus, not dimmer light. I struggle with this a lot, and it’s good to critique other people’s work to help me grow as a writer. Do you have a critique partner? If not, I highly recommend it.
While Indy’s wet ride is a large plot hole, these smaller instances of vagueness can make or break the sale of a short story.
While I’m here, I also wanted to suggest adding detail as a layer. Do you have trees in your world? What kind? It’s a better visual and tells me much more as a reader if the trees are banana trees versus oaks. There is an implicit hot and buggy environment for one, and a cool and breezy one for the other. One suggests seasons, one doesn’t. I’m likely to know the types of other flora and fauna in the setting by what trees you name.
Your details can be shortcuts. This is especially vital if you are trying to write flash fiction or drabbles (100-word stories).
Again, this is usually achieved in the EDIT stage. Trying to write to this level of clarity in a first draft will slow you down and might even make you stop. It’s better to smudge and smear details all over your first draft, and then go back and tighten the lens focus. Just make sure you go back.
It’s perfectly fine and usually necessary to [insert genius here] on a first draft!
(featured image is a Marvel comics panel)
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